Wolves left to rue profligacy as Liverpool roll on

Firmino scores the winner after Raúl Jiménez equalises with 20th goal of the season

Roberto Firmino scores Liverpool’s winner at Molineux. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty

Roberto Firmino scores Liverpool’s winner at Molineux. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty

 

Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 Liverpool 2

This happens so often one would almost think it is normal. But what Liverpool are doing this season is freakish. Here they withstood fierce pressure from Wolves before claiming their 22nd victory from 23 Premier League matches, stretching their lead at the top of table to 16 points.

Wolves put them through the wringer, threatening to explode the visitors’ invincibility after Raúl Jiménez cancelled out Jordan Henderson’s first-half goal. But Roberto Firmino struck six minutes from time to plunder yet another victory.

This time last year Wolves beat a second-string Liverpool 2-1 at Molineux to oust them from the FA Cup four days after Jürgen Klopp’s first-choice team had lost by the same score at Manchester City. That latter match ultimately decided the outcome of last season’s title race but also, by hardening Liverpool’s focus, set in train this season’s seemingly relentless path to glory. Nobody had beaten them in the league since then. But Klopp was well aware that Wolves were capable of disrupting their march to the title so took no chances with his lineup, deploying the same side that disposed of Manchester United on Sunday.

Wolves, aiming to climb above United in the table, were also unchanged from their last game, that sensational comeback against Southampton, which was the latest evidence that Wolves, too, have exceptional quality and focus, plus an ability to confound expectations. The returns of Wily Boly and Diogo Jota to their bench after long injury layoffs served as reminders that the exploits of Nuno Espírito Santo’s men this season have been accomplished by a small squad that has carried on gaining points despite losing key players. But what would they get from this, their 40th match of the season so far?

Raul Jimenez equalises for Wolves against Liverpool. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty
Raul Jimenez equalises for Wolves against Liverpool. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty

The hosts went for the jugular from the start and put Trent Alexander-Arnold under early pressure. In the fourth minute the right-back was so overwhelmed he resorted to pulling back Jonny Otto. João Moutinho sent the free-kick from the left across the face of goal, tantalisingly out of reach of the attackers straining to apply a decisive touch. But two minutes later Alexander-Arnold did what he does best, offering a beautiful delivery, from a corner, to Jordan Henderson, who headed into the net from six yards.

The way Liverpool’s captain won the ball in a crowded box spoke eloquently of his powerful drive as well as of Alexander-Arnold’s accuracy. Henderson continued to impose his will on proceedings thereafter, directing Liverpool’s operations with busy authority.

But Moutinho tried to do likewise for Wolves, and Liverpool were far from dominant. They were downright slapdash in the 11th minute when Wolves outwitted them with a short corner. Moutinho pinged it to Rúben Neves, whose cross from the left found Matt Doherty free near the back post. The Irishman granted Liverpool a reprieve by nodding wide from eight yards.

It was an exhilarating contest between two high-grade sides. Wolves, specialists in winning after falling behind, were never going to be weakened by doubt. Adama Traoré was a recurring menace out wide. After one of the Spaniard’s runs and crosses Alexander-Arnold had to throw himself in front of a shot by Jiménez. Then Liverpool hurtled down the other end and Sadio Mané floated a pass from the left to Mohamed Salah, who chose not to shoot with his right foot, instead cutting back on to his left, which allowed Otto and Rui Patrício to combine to block his shot.

Mané picked up an injury soon after that and had to be replaced in the 33rd minute. Takumi Minamino, who joined this month from RB Salzburg, took his place to make his Premier League debut. He might have marked the occasion with a goal if Salah had passed to him just before the break, but he chose to go it alone and Doherty slid in to block his shot.

Klopp switched to 4-4-2 formation for the second half, assigning Minamino to right midfield. Salah created chance for himself just after the interval, pinched the ball off Traoré and blasting at goal from 16 yards.

Patrício saved. Then Jiménez and Traoré put on a lesson in forward play. First the Mexican duped Andy Robertson with a canny feint and dash near the halfway line, then he slipped a pass into the gap left by the Scot. Traoré took the cue and raced on to the ball, then clipped a perfect cross back to Jiménez, who guided a sumptuous header past Alisson. Such devastating simplicity is not as easy as Traoré and Jiménez made it look.

Wolves were not sated. Within moments Traoré was flying past Robertson again. The frazzled left-back stretched out a leg and took him down just outside the box, happy to take a booking rather than concede a goal or a penalty.

Wolves threatened to take over after that, their passing and movement seriously troubling Liverpool. Alisson had to turn away a low shot by Traoré in the 62nd minute. Five minutes later Traoré showed his more subtle side, threading a lovely pass through to Jiménez. Alisson stood firm to deny the Mexican. Firmino, mostly subdued, sealed victory by taking a cute pass from Henderson, gliding past one defender and slamming a left-footed shot into the top corner from 10 yards. - Guardian

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